My wife and I have been sending kids off to college for a decade now. We’ve been funding the national education system since the early 1990s. We’ve yet to see a return on our money, save better dinner conversations, but we have learned a few things that might help you, and yours, as you they begin or return back to school.
The period of going back to school is an innately teachable moment: It’s your best opportunity to teach kids responsibility with personal finance, budgeting and about money in general.
Even a five-year old can sense when you’re stressed. So you can either expand their privilege bubble by blowing hot air until you’re blue in the face, or you save them a lot of grief and level with them about the hardships of money and how to avoid them.
A list is the key. Going back to school is the time to go through closets, drawers and bedrooms, learning what you have, what you need and what you need more of. Set a budget as a family, and let the kids know what they’re going to miss if (when) they go over budget.
If your state has a sales tax holiday, bring your list. Do not enter any store without knowing what you will get and a clear idea of the store’s best deals. Make a game of it. The kid who beats their budget by the most gets something the other ones don’t get.
Technology helps. An app like Flipp, designed to sort shopping lists and coupons, can teach money-saving habits that last a lifetime. While automated savings apps can do the heavy lifting of financial discipline for your teen.
Bringing the kids into the money game when it comes time to go back to school will cut your stress levels, bring your family closer together, and teach lessons that last a lifetime.
Credit for Teens
My wife and I both worked for our parents coming up. Our kids both had custodial investment accounts, money we saved together, that they got access to on turning 21. The effect of their seeing “my” money, as opposed to mom and dad’s money, can be electric.
Despite all I’ve read from other journalists, most kids aren’t going to become stock pickers at 13. (I was a weirdo.) Just finding a good mutual fund, with decent returns and minimal management fees, will do wonders. Be consistent. A little each month. Match every dollar if you can.
Now, credit cards. They should get one after they’re earning their own money. This could be the traditional summer job before going back to school, such as mowing lawns or babysitting. Or wait until that first year of college, when you must make their job of meeting a budget real.
The ideal card is one with a long grace period, no annual fee and free credit checks. If you’re going to take any affiliate card, make it one from a store or other merchant that your teen frequents. Make sure you can get a copy of their monthly bill and, whatever the stated interest rate, teach paying it off each month.